In the midst of the EA acquisition news, paidContent managed to corral Sebastien de Halleux, Playfish’s COO, to get more details on how the deal came about — as well as how the company avoided getting tainted by the stigma of deceptive ads in social games.
Tameka Kee: Rumors about the deal hit a fever pitch in the past month, and people actually had reports with dollar figures, albeit for a lower price than you ultimately got. How long had you been talking to EA?
Sebastien de Halleux (pictured): This deal came about very quickly, but let me say that Playfish was never “up for sale.” We were focused on building our business, because we believed — and still do — that the game industry is changing. EA approached, and we realized that we could be in a better position to act as an agent of change, through them. We could build games and attract users on our own, but this deal accelerates that to a degree that wouldn’t have been possible. It also validates the social gaming business model overall.
Validates is an interesting word, because there’s a big debate right now about how “valid” the CPA-based business model is for social games. Playfish’s games do feature offer-based ads, but your team hasn’t been called “scammy.” How did you avoid getting pulled into the mix?
Well, I think the debate that’s happening is a healthy one. Offer ads and advertising in general have a role to play in social gaming, but the quality control needs to be in the hands of the publisher. Most of our business is transactional, but we do work with offer companies — mostly TrialPay — in a way that benefits the users. On Valentine’s Day, for example, people could buy real or virtual flowers, that’s a benefit. We validated that offer; we validate every offer that goes through our system, and refuse to run ads that we can’t control ourselves. We do use SuperRewards for a small subset of ads, but those offers are manually validated as well.
You’ve been autonomous — choosing your own ad partners, which games to launch, etc. — for three years. How will you stay nimble as part of a multi-million dollar organization?
That’s a legitimate question. They’ve demonstrated with BioWare and Jamdat [now EA Mobile] that they can give the acquired company some independence on pricing and IP, but there will be challenges. Still, EA has given the whole team, including myself and Kristian [the CEO], reason to be highly motivated to continue building successful games.
Right, your hundred-million dollar potential earnout. So will your existing games be co-branded? They just launched Spore Islands for Facebook. Will that become a Playfish game? Also, will we see a unified virtual currency for EA Mobile and forthcoming social games?
It’s too early to say whether we’ll be branding their existing titles or new IP; I can say that we’ll be working first to take our own IP and share it across EA’s other platforms. I imagine that it would work both ways though, because EA Mobile has strong titles that could easily translate into the social space. As for a virtual currency, the big takeaway is that yes, both companies do have it. If you think about where the gaming space is going — and bring it back to what would be best for the user — then creating a combined currency would be really compelling.